Winter Put CN 1st Quarter Revenue in Deep Freeze

Canadian National blamed harsh winter weather for depressing its first quarter financial numbers.

CN said first quarter revenue was flat at $3.2 billion while operating income fell 16 percent to $1 billion.

Net income declined by 16 percent to $741 million and operating expenses jumped 9 percent to $2.2 billion compared with the first quarter of 2017 results. All figures are in Canadian dollars.

The Montreal-based company said revenue ton-miles declined 4 percent to 57.2 million but carloads increased 3 percent to 1.4 million units. The operating ratio rose 6 points to 67.8.

By traffic segment, coal and intermodal revenue rose 10 percent to $142 million and $814 million, respectively, and metals and minerals revenue increased 7 percent to $388 million on a year-over-year basis.

However, grain and fertilizers revenue fell 11 percent to $539 million, forest products revenue dropped 6 percent to $422 million, automotive revenue declined 4 percent to $197 million, and petroleum and chemicals revenue decreased 3 percent to $564 million.

Aside from bad weather, CN also said its flat revenue resulted from a negative translation impact from the stronger Canadian dollar, which partly was offset by higher fuel surcharges and rates. The increase in operating costs was caused by weather, higher training costs for new employees and higher fuel prices.

CN officials said the harsh winter affected train lengths and caused operational performance to further slip after eroding since fall because of an unexpected double-digit traffic gain last year.

“We had lower resiliency in some high-volume areas going into winter, [which] made maintaining fluidity very challenging. Fluidity is the most important thing,” said Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Mike Cory. “This lower resiliency, coupled with the extreme harsh winter conditions in those same areas, resulted in a decline in the service levels and an increase in [operational] costs.”

CN officials said they expect to spend $400 million — compared with a previously announced $250 million — to complete 29 major infrastructure capacity projects, mainly in western Canada. This includes new double track, more and longer sidings, and yard capacity expansions.

The railroad is also acquiring additional locomotives and box cars, along with hiring more train crew members.

“Our metrics are showing sustained, sequential improvement, and that momentum will build as we continue to expand track capacity, add crews and bring on new locomotives,” said interim CN President and Chief Executive Officer Jean-Jacques Ruest. “With the people, equipment and infrastructure in place, and with a solid pipeline of growth opportunities ahead of us, we are confident in our ability to bring long-term value creation to our customers and shareholders.”

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